Hurt Seeking Fifth District Seat
FARMVILLE – Robert Hurt knows something about elections.
The attorney from rural Chatham first won a seat on Town Council in the spring of 2000.
“…I've always been interested in politics, always interested in public affairs,” Hurt says, when asked why he decided to run for the Council seat. “You know…I grew up in a family that loved to talk about politics…around the dinner table and when I went into private practice…this election came up and there was an opening on the Town Council and so I decided at that time to go ahead and give it a run.”
This November, Hurt – who has gone on to serve as a Republican Delegate in Virginia's General Assembly for six years since then and is currently a State Senator (R-19th) – is seeking to be the next Congressman for the Fifth District. He will face Democratic Party incumbent Tom Perriello and independent Jeffrey Clark in November.
But, back to the spring of 2000, there were a handful of candidates running for four spots on Council. Hurt, following the advice of the clerk of court, says he knocked on every door in town and won 82 percent of the vote.
“And it's all been downhill since then,” Hurt deadpans, then adding a laugh.
Hurt, who was born in New York City and later raised in Chatham, graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1991 and Mississippi College's School of Law in 1995. He returned to his hometown and became a prosecutor.
“I loved it. I loved being a prosecutor…I did that from '95 to '99,” Hurt said.
He cited that your client was always justice.
“…If you're in private practice and a client hires you, it's not always that clear cut,” Hurt said. “You obviously have to always put the interests of your client ahead of what…justice might require.”
Hurt says he loved the job and being able to work with law enforcement officers.
“…And so often you're helping victims of crime get through a very difficult time and trying to…win justice for the community but also win justice for people who have been harmed by a crime and by criminals, and so I just loved that job,” Hurt said.
Hurt then went into private practice – what he describes as kind of a traditional small town general practice.
Hurt feels like he got a good perspective about the challenges of being in local government while being on Council.
“…So much of what happens in Washington is done without any regard for the effect-not just the burden of enforcing regulations out of Washington at a local level, but the cost is just tremendous,” Hurt reflects.
He adds, “People talk about unfunded mandates and I think I came away with a real good feeling for that,” Hurt said.
But, he also noted, being on a council or board of supervisors, one affects people in their day-to-day lives in many ways more profoundly than those do who are in perhaps a higher office “because you're really dealing with their day to day needs and…it's a great experience from a standpoint of being a representative because…if something doesn't get done…your home phone is gonna be ringing off the hook and…I think it was a wonderful experience from that standpoint.”
With redistricting in 2001, a House of Delegates seat came open that included Pittsylvania, Martinsville and Henry County “and so…after thinking about it and talking with the family about it, we decided to take that run,” he said.
He was elected as a Delegate in 2001, took office in 2002 and served three terms; when Charles Hawkins retired from the State Senate, Hurt again put his hat into the ring.
He currently represents Pittsylvania, Franklin, Campbell and the City of Danville-which includes about a third of the Fifth District (representing about 170,000 people).
A big change from representing about 1,100 on Chatham Town Council.
Hurt lives in the house across the street from where he grew up and his 11-year-old son just finished his summer job, delivering newspapers, the job he, too, did as a boy.
“I asked him how many he sold,” Hurt recounted. “He said he sold 136 yesterday. And then he said that was his record…that he sold 136 papers on the street.”
Many that Hurt sold papers to as a boy, are still working in the same offices now that his son sells papers now.
Living in a small Town like Farmville or Chatham, he thinks growing up on main street where you have so many interactions with great, fine, hardworking people, he thinks, is such a good experience for any child.
“…I'd like to think it had a great impact on me as kind of what I think is important and the kind of father I am,” Hurt said.
“…I think so much of it does stem from your family and how you're raised,” Hurt says, when asked about his core value system and who he is. “You know, I believe that we live in the greatest nation on earth. I believe that our rights as human beings derive from above, not from man or from the government. I believe that…is a founding principle for this country and I think that in many ways we have gotten away from that and that we've allowed our country to get away from some of those founding principles of limited government, free markets and individual liberty…Those are three things that this country was founded on and those are things that I believe in based on the way I was raised.
“And I think that that is what this election is about, because I don't think…We no longer have limited government. We've got a government that's unlimited. I mean, a government that spends $1.7 trillion dollars in deficits, government that has borrowed $13 trillion at a time when our gross domestic product is $14 trillion. I mean…and…that concerns me and, as I travel across the Fifth District, it concerns so many people because they realize that we can't continue to spend that kind of money-spend money that we don't have and expect to be a prosperous healthy nation. And the greatest consequence, I think, will be to our children, who will be saddled with that burden of pick up the pieces after we tear everything down.”
Hurt says he loves history, to study the founding period. George Washington is his hero, he says, adding that Patrick Henry and James Madison are heroes.
“And I think that at the end of the day, after it's all said and done…if the government is limited in nature, it leaves us as…citizens to find what it is that the Lord…put us on the earth for and to go about and do it, whether it's being a dairy farmer, being a newspaper reporter, being a lawyer, or whatever it is,” Hurt said. “I think that…we should be left to our devices to do that which fulfills us and do it free from government influence and I think … part of … my values, obviously, stems from…growing up in the church and … very … important part of my life and my family's life.”
Asked how he would label himself if would do so, Hurt says he fully support and subscribe to the Republican creed and he would describe himself as independent-minded, have conservative values, and is very proud to be a Virginian.
“And I think…one thing I've learned in the nine years that I've been in the General Assembly is that my primary obligation as a representative in a democratic republic is that you…always stand up for your people,” he said.
“And, unfortunately … I don't think that a lot of the crowd that is in Washington puts their people first. I think they put either their re-election or they put the political leaders' interests ahead of their own. And I think that's wrong. I … think people are tired of it and I think people want a leader who's gonna stand up for 'em even if it's not popular or stand up for 'em even if that representative's political leaders are telling 'em to do something different.”
Since being elected to the legislature, Hurt says he can't think of issues he's faced where he's ever had to take a stand on an issue where his principles were not consistent with the principles of people he represents.
“Maybe at the end of the day, that's what you want in your elected representative … somebody who's principles are consistent with your own,” he said.
He says his time at Hampden-Sydney is “very important to me in terms of his love for history and his understanding of constitutional principles in our founders.
“I love that time there,” says the former English major.
Hurt has voted to de-fund the controversial Planned Parenthood.
“I'm a pro-life person…I believe life begins at conception,” he said. “I also believe very strongly that the government should in no way fund abortion…Although the Supreme Court makes…abortion legal, it's unconscionable to make taxpayers who feel so strongly against it to pay for it and so that's why I've supported that measure.”
Hurt was also a supporter of Virginia's marriage constitutional amendment, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
“I think it goes to the core values of our society…,” Hurt said, noting his support.
Hurt was one of seven Republican candidates vying for the Republican party's nomination last June. Collectively, netted 48.42 percent of the vote.
“Absolutely,” he says, when asked if it were a good experience. “…And I say this sincerely. There are a lot of people who supported me very early on and some…at political risk to themselves. And I'm grateful for that support. I'm grateful for all those folks who supported us in the primary and was very pleased with the strong result at the end of it.”
He cites the nearly 50 percent with the seven-man field.
“But let's be clear…we're seeing an intensity and an interest in this election unlike anything I've ever seen and the scrutiny that…our campaign and every other candidate endured during this primary process was very, very important because…for the last several decades, we've not been asking hard questions of our leaders,” Hurt said. “We've not been holding our leaders and candidates accountable for what they say and what they do and…so I think that we as Republicans are much stronger as a consequence in the Fifth District. I think I as a candidate am a much stronger candidate as a consequence of having gone through that very, very tough process. And, so, I'm grateful for it. I am grateful for the process. I think…what it allowed us to do as Republicans was to showcase…our best…what we had to offer for the course of that…six, eight month period. Allowed us to showcase and get before the voters and, frankly, begin the process of illustrating the stark differences between those who want to stand up for Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Perriello's policies and those who want to try to get back to those founding principles that I was talking about of limited government and free markets and individual liberty.”
Hurt says he's talked with former Congressman Virgil Goode (whom Congressman Perriello narrowly defeated two years ago) “numerous times” and that he is extremely supportive.
“I think so,” Hurt says, when asked if the Tea Party movement has been good for the party. “I think it's extremely important. …People don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, but I think…they've become (a) critical part of this debate and a part of this election process and a very, very important and good part because I think…it goes back to the fact that you've got people who are interested. I can't think of any circumstance under which having more people involved in the political process is a bad thing.”
In addition to Perriello and Hurt, there will be a third, independent candidate on the ballot this November, Jeffrey Clark. There has been much debate about lining up a debate and whether Clark should participate.
“I see it as a two-way race,” Hurt said. “I mean, let's be clear. This race is between two people who represent starkly different philosophies. …On the one hand, you've got the crowd that's in Washington that wants to grow government and adopt job-killing policies, in my opinion. And, on the other, you've got folks who want…to control spending, control debt and reduce the burden on the small business, reduce the burden on the farmer and allow the private sector to grow. Those are the two stark philosophies.”
He would add that “anybody who can get a thousand signatures has a right to be on the ballot and I'm glad for that, but I think that this election is too important to allow us to be distracted by anybody that is not (going to) be fully engaged in the debate that I think is before us in this election.”
As for the debates, Hurt says they have said from the beginning “that we'll debate Tom Perriello anywhere any time in a one-on-one format. He declined for the longest time to agree to that, but in the last week or so…maybe it's two or three weeks ago, he agreed to have…one-on-one debates so that we can talk about the issues, talk about his record and our vision.”
Two have been set in October and Hurt said they're working to set more.
Hurt says the number one issue he's hearing is jobs.
“…I was talking to a lady on Main Street in Farmville,” Hurt said. “Prior to this recession, prior to these economic hard times, she had 20 people working for her. She's down to ten. And…her question is…why can't the government understand that it needs to get out of the way so that I can go to work to create these jobs and…you're not gonna get that when you're being told by Congressman Perriello and the Administration that we're gonna tax you more, we're goanna put more regulatory burdens on you. We're gonna give you a health care bill you don't want and we're going to expect you to pay for it. That's no way to promote job growth.”
Anyone in business is feeling it now, he said, adding that the consequence of that is unemployment levels that are unacceptable and people that are struggling.
“I think we first of all have to adopt a balanced budget requirement…Government needs to get its spending under control, its debt under control and then I think that, frankly, we need to allow those people who are in business to keep more of what they make so that they can reinvest that in the business and create the jobs and wealth that we need. And that happens by reducing taxes. It happens by reducing the burden of regulations. It happens by not … passing on a horrendous … so called health care bill. And I think we have to do all those things in conjunction with…getting our spending under control and I think we will start to see some recovery.”
So much of it has to do with the confidence of business, he said. Hurt points to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, who he said declared that they would “lower your taxes, we're gonna reduce the regulatory burden on you, (and) you go to work and you see what happened. We're getting the exact opposite from Washington now and so we shouldn't be surprised with the response.”
Hurt specifically notes places like Danville with 15 percent unemployment and Martinsville at 22 percent.
Hurt says he would have voted against health care legislation and would support its repeal.
“I don't think that's probably realistic, unless we have a veto-proof majority in the House and the Senate,” he said. “And, so I think that we'll have to look at ways to stop it once we get there. And, obviously, not funding some of…all the new agencies that are gonna be created … things like that … hopefully we would be able to accomplish it and stop it that way.”
Hurt, who supports a line-item veto option, agrees that it takes away power from Congress and gives power to the President.
“But I think…that's an incredibly important budgeting tool is to be able to … instead of having to veto a whole bill that's bad, to be able to veto certain parts of it so that it's, I mean you could reduce spending that way and I think that's better as opposed to going through the process of vetoing the whole thing and sending it back and then having to budget,” he said.
Hurt would also note that he hesitates to ever tinker with the delicate balance of powers between executive and the legislative branches, “but by the same token, I mean, I think (a) balanced budget amendment is necessary and so is a, I think, a line item veto is necessary.”
The process of earmarks needs to be reformed, he also feels.
“…In addition to a corrupt process – I think Democrats and Republicans agree that it is a corrupt process – in addition to that…this Congress is spending money on these pork projects that we don't even have…and that's a really important point to make,” Hurt said.
On making the budget process more transparent, Hurt cited: “I think first of all, all of the bills that are before Congress and any amendments…to the 13 different appropriations bills, they need to be easily accessible, they need to be…on-line and open for public inspection in a way that's meaningful. And, I think also that…you need to, as you go through the legislative process, you have to respect that legislative process.”
He noted, as an example, when something goes into conference “you can't be slapping on stuff in conference…that…never went through the scrutiny of…the entire legislative process.”
Hurt does not believe privatizing social security is a good idea. He believes that it's a promise that has been made and a promise that has to be kept.
At the time of the interview, there were some 68 days remaining before the November election for a Congressional District that the candidate cites includes 22 counties and cities and is larger than the state of New Jersey.
“We'll continue to take our message out and to listen to folks all across the Fifth District in Main Street and courthouse towns and farms and crossroads everywhere,” Hurt said.
He noted he has a good base of support in Southside and that it's been particularly important in the last several weeks to spend a lot of time in the northern part of the district.
“We've got to depend on volunteers and people (who are) willing to get out and work for us. And I think we've put together a great team and I'm confident we can do it.”